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Feds: Driver In Fatal Smuggling Attempt Was To Be Paid $3,500

A U.S. citizen accused in an alleged smuggling attempt that ended in the deaths of two Mexicans in the trunk of his car pleaded not guilty Wednesday in San Diego federal court.

Nicholas George Zakov, 41, of Los Angeles was ordered held without bail and had a detention hearing set for Aug. 19.

A medical emergency was reported at the San Ysidro Port of Entry about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Two men were found in the car's trunk, and one died at the scene, fire department Lee Swanson said. The other man died at a hospital.

According to a federal probable cause statement, Zakov — driving a 2012 Dodge Challenger — arrived at the border from Mexico about 2:27 p.m., seeking admission into the United States.

A customs officer referred the car for a more thorough investigation, and an X-ray machine detected anomalies in the trunk. Officers found two men inside who were not breathing.

San Diego paramedics were called, but both men died.

They were identified as Tarcisio Casas-Blanco, 28, and Jose Aurelio Quiroz-Casas, 20, both from the state of Guanajuato.

Zakov admitted being aware of the two people in the trunk, authorities said.

According to the probable cause statement, Zakov said he was told to drive to a Denny's in Chula Vista where he would be paid $3,500.

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